There have been two recalls on raw petfood in recent months, one because of high levels of salmonella and the other because the feed manufacturer had not complied with the legal requirement for inspection. meanwhile, advocates of raw feeding continue to spread supporting anecdotes that have no basis in proven, peer-reviewed fact.
Myth 1: Raw food is the “natural” diet of the domestic dog
Fact: There is overwhelming evidence that domestic dogs evolved by scavenging around human settlements. As most humans changed from being nomadic hunter-gatherers to being settled farmers, dogs evolved to accommodate the change in diet and became capable of digesting more starch. This capability varies from breed to breed, even today, so that northern breeds have fewer starch receptors than, for instance, sight hounds that developed in the fertile crescent. Dogs “natural” diet is whatever man throws away or deigns to feed, possibly supplemented by a small game. This is abundently evident in the 80% of the world’s dogs that live in feral groups.
Myth 2: Raw food is frozen which is sufficient kill pathogens
Fact: Not all raw food fed to domestic dogs is frozen and not all frozen food is free of dangers including helminths (parasitic worms), protozoans (causing giardiasis, toxoplasmosis, cryptosporidiosis and leishmaniasis etc), bacteria, viruses and prions. All however are destroyed by the high temperatures used when commercial cooked foods are prepared. Cooking also makes food more digestible and bio-available. As to the latter, just because it’s present, it doesn’t mean that dog’s body can utilise it.
A recent study in the US found that 20-35% of raw poultry and 80% of raw food diets for dogs tested positive for salmonella and 30% of stool samples from raw-fed dogs tested positive for salmonella. Raw food diets have also tested positive for E. coli and Yersinia enterocolitica (bacteria that may cause gastrointestinal upset). Otherwise healthy dogs may be able to cope with ingestion of these bacteria, but very young, old, or immunocompromised dogs may not be able to do so. Further, the faeces continually contaminate the environment, putting other animals and people at risk.
Myth 3: Raw food is healthier than cooked or commercial food
Fact: Study after study has shown that raw diets are often deficient in calcium, phosphorus, potassium and zinc and can contain excessively high vitamin D levels. Homemade diets are particularly likely to result in medium-long term malnutrition. Whilst some adult dogs can cope with calcium and phosphorus imbalances, they may affect the strength of the bones of growing dogs. Ironically, many owners say that they feed raw because of allergies, but zinc deficiencies may cause skin disorders. It would be interesting to see how many owners of dogs suffering from allergies researched the breed and the likelihood of their dog suffering allergies due to in-breeding before becoming an owner. High quality, commercially prepared complete diets are balanced nutritionally and contain all required trace elements in bio-available forms. This is without even considering the risk that raw diets pose to animal and human health.
Chicken is a popular choice of food for raw feeders, some even feeding chicken wings. Chicken in the Uk has high levels of contamination with campylobacter. The Food Standards Agency has been so concerned about this that it has been running a campaign in conjunction with major supermarket chains and has succeeded in diminishing contamination. However, the FSA stated that this is not the case with chicken sourced from independent butchers, where high levels of contamination are likely to prevail.
Myth 4: Raw diets are better for oral health
Fact: Studies in wild dogs have found that 41% had periodontitis, although only 2% had dental tartar: teeth may appear cleaner but gums may not be healthier. Wild dogs live far shorter lives than domestic dogs who may have to endure painful and harmful damage to teeth and gums for many years if not cared for properly. Bones also chip and crack teeth.
Myth 5: Feeding raw bones is “natural” and safe
Fact: Many owners believe that feeding raw bones is safer than feeding cooked bones, but there is no evidence to support this view. Domestic dogs simply don’t have the power in their jaws to crush uncooked bones and are not likely to be fed hide and hair. Wild dogs possess a protective mechanism that enables undigested hair and hide to wrap around bone fragments as they are excreted and in any case, crush bones far more efficiently and completely.
Moreover, farm animals are reared intensively and quickly causing their bones to be brittle. Chickens often suffer fractures because of rapid growth that does not enable bones to develop fully and because they are bred to have large amounts of muscle which adds further strain. Bones are therefore much more likely to shatter and create potentially lethal shards.
Bones get stuck in the stomach and intestine. If they perforate the gut, consequential infection can be fatal and, at the very least, agonising. Bones get stuck in the oesophagus preventing the dog from breathing which, even if the dog survives, can lead to permanent blindness from hypoxia.
Raw bones are covered in pathogens: if left out, those pathogens will multiply. Although healthy dogs have quite good protection against food that would definitely fell a human, young, old and otherwise compromised dogs can become very ill indeed.
Myth 5: All additives are bad: processing is bad
Fact: Additives in good quality commercial, cooked food ensure that essential trace elements are bio-available and present in the right amounts if fed according to guidelines. This is vital for growing dogs and throughout life. Processing occurs at high temperatures which ensures that pathogens are largely eliminated and increases the shelf life of products. This makes good quality food easily available to all owners with minimal input required other than feeding and storing correctly. Processing (cooking) makes food more digestible; it does not destroy essential digestive enzymes. Processing (shaping) makes food available in small pellets which can be fed gradually and used to assist training and bonding when fed by hand.